all-mozart concert at ucla

last saturday, I attended an all-mozart gala at ucla, a concert which i’ve marked on my calendar since august and have been anxiously waiting for.

UCLA was truly the place where everything began for me 13 years ago. i was first introduced to classical music and given the first set of mozart cd — the suuuuuperb amadeus soundtrack . That first set (there was a 2nd release) was a 2-CD set, with back-to-back “Kyrie” from Mozart Mass in C minor followed by the first movement of his Sinfornia Concertante for viola and violin at the end of CD 2. I fell in love with both deeply. Through the years, i own 2 complete recordings (for a poor student, 2 sets were a lot) and have attended 5 live performances of the Sinfonia Concertante.  The first live one was here at Royce-hall at UCLA, and i still remember having to pay $24 for the ticket (an enormous amount of money which i barely had).  My ears were still sooo untrained i didn’t know there were 2 instruments duetting from the hundreds of times i listened to the sound track!  It was quite a pleasant surprise at the performance, but instantly upon seeing the intimate interactions between the instruments, i was convinced it’s the perfect gay marriage.  why gay?  Mozart tuned the viola 1/2 a tone up to bring it intimately closer to the violin for their duets.  marriage?  well, i didn’t really believe so much in marriage back then (too hetero for my taste), but i thought if there’s ever a true partnership, it would encompass the emotions expressed between these two instruments.

The grand opening of the first movement introduces the couple, happily in love, but hasn’t yet sorted out the finer details…  If there’s anything i enjoyed greatly from my “classical music appreciation class” back in 1997, it’s the discovery of “asking-replying” interaction.  it takes at least 2, in phase, to get this to work.  The first movement is about that, with mostly a question or an emotion expressed by the violin, followed by a reply or reassurance from the calmer and darker viola.  Soon though (around 5.14), the first “issue” is raised.  the concern is aired out to the entire orchestra for a short time while the viola took time to think and reply.  Then the two join in unison to a soft cry and embrace before emerging to the orchestra again nearly 2 minutes later.  The second movement is truly down time, moments of deep reflections, of “let’s sit and talk”, of sorting-out-differences conversations.  The two share similar but slightly different views.  There are always supports for the other’s emotion while expressing own true feelings (as opposed to just agreeing with the other).  Partnership is about handling ups and downs in stride.  Who knows if all problems are resolved by the time the two emerged triumphantly in the 3rd movement to a beautiful dance.  But that’s not the point.  Not everything can be solved.  It’s more the way the two handle their good and bad times that reflect a “perfect” marriage in my mind.

That’s a load of rambling.  But it’s why i’m always looking forward so much to hearing the sinfonia live.  i’m deeply touched by the music.  and mozart mass in C-minor? well, that’s how i partly discovered opera, Arleen Auger, Frederica von Stade, Barbara Bonney, Anne Sofie von Otter… but i have never managed to catch it live here in the US before. So, A mad drive through traffic in LA got me to Royce Hall 15 min before the concert, not enough time indeed as there was a verrrry long line of people buying tix at the box office.  it’s one of those nice concert where there’s a flat fee of $15/person and you run in as fast as you can to grab the best seat.  it was to my advantage that i was alone.  I spotted an empty spot right in the middle of row S, otherwise known as one of the best seats in the house. It’s at the same level with the conductor, so i could see everything very well and got balanced sound (so i hoped).  The hall was pact with overwhelmingly young students and friends of the choirs’ and orchestra players’.

Sinfonia Concertante was as beautiful as ever.  it was the UCLA symphony orchestra supporting the two soloists who are both well established violinists and faculties in the music department.  I actually like the viola better, perhaps it’s just my bias for the low voice after all.  The 2nd movement was truly beautiful, quiet, tentative.  The last movement was truly a dance!  I can feel mozart was probably very happy composing this movement, who says classical music is not rock-n-roll?  Rebecca Lord, a Ph.D. student in conducting at UCLA directed the orchestra at very nice paces.  Just for curiosity, i was wondering if she could soften some of the instruments during parts when the orchestra was merging and taking over the soloist (when i couldn’t hear the soloist any more).


Mozart’s mass:  the sight alone was amazing: 100+ singers from the UCLA chorale and the University Chorus, a full orchestra, 4 soloists who are students at UCLA, and Neal Stulberg conducting.  From where i was sitting, i liked the soprano’s voice the best.  It took her until the Domine Deus (start at 1.18) to fully warm up.  The mezzo sounded to me like she was shouting a lot.  Yet, a friend of mine (a non-professional singer who sings in many choirs and who was sitting near 3rd row) said she liked the mezzo’s voice the most.  I guess something is up with the sound (?) at Royce Hall, and another reason why you shouldn’t trust reviews so much but need to listen for yourself.  And when the choir was singing, just an amazing sight really.  I was a bit overwhelmed by the shear power.  This is truly how you produce true and unamplified music! (before the corruption of speakers).

the evening ended with a very nice conversation with several Ph.D. students from the linguistic department (where my friend belongs to, and where one of the singers in the choir are studying).  I get to listen to them discussing the finer details of what is heard vs. what the singers were trying to do to get the audience to hear better separations of notes (truly love it).  I also get to ask my undying question as to why supposedly more advanced languages contain verb conjugation!  (we vietnamese have survived just fine with the infinitive form of verbs, why bother conjugating past/future/present/pronoun/etc.).  In the end, i gave the singer-linguistic student a ride home and get to hear more of her opinions about the pieces, the performers, the schedules, the finer details.  i should make more friends like these in my new city!

so, it was a wonderful wonderful evening.  i feel alive again after that long disconnection since i got back to LA.  here’re two complete playlists of the mass on youtube:

with Arleen Auger and Frederica von Stade
with Barbara Bonney and Anne Sofie von Otter

and here’s a complete playlist of the sinfonia concertante (which i’ve posted before).

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About thả diều
writing-challenged opera-addict

6 Responses to all-mozart concert at ucla

  1. Ha! gay marriage. Not a bad way to put it.

    I’ve never heard Mass in C live, but it must be incredible. And Domine Deus is my favourite movement (well… together with Laudamus Te and just about all the others).

    The man was glorious in everything he did.

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    • thả diều says:

      same for me, that’s how i discovered ASvO, i was searching for Laudamus Te and thought: hey, i really like her voice, who’s she?? i also love Benedictus where all voices mix. truly lovely piece, i don’t know why they don’t perform often.

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      • I love the Requiem too — that’s one of the earlier vinyl records I owned back in Communist Yugoslavia, Karajan directing. I couldn’t stop listening it. But in Requiem the soloists are underused, it’s all about the chorus. Not so in C.

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  2. eyesometric says:

    I love the Bonney/von Otter version on Youtube too!
    Brilliant to see and hear it without the score – unusual and therefore an added dimension. Favourite is probably Bonney’s “Et in carnatus est” and in the Requiem the Lachrymosa never fails to reduce me to a wreck.

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  3. Yes, the von Otter-Bonney young voices merge amazingly there.

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  4. thả diều says:

    @eyesometric & DtO: ja, it’s my favorite recording on youtube. I’m still very surprised there’s so few performances of this mass (on youtube, here in US..) compared to the Requiem or Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater, or Bach’s Matthaeus Passion.. speaking of which, vivalavoce is treating me with the mass in C right now, very nice 🙂 . What was surprising to me also during the ucla performance was how little the tenor and particularly the bass were used. i’ve seen it many times on youtube, but i was also quite surprised how dominating the chorus was in this piece. many nice things come at you during a live performance 🙂 .

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